Monday NBA grades: Chandler Parsons might be the Rockets’ third man

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while watching… actually you should have been watching the NBA all day. There were great performances — such as Anthony Davis with 27 points and 10 rebounds, or Dwight Howard with 24 points and 12 boards — that don’t even make the cut here. The Association was the best entertainment going on Martin Luther King day.

source:  Chandler Parsons, Houston Rockets. Houston GM Daryl Morey said he thought the Rockets had the first two pieces of a title contender in James Harden and Dwight Howard, but they still needed piece No. 3. The next game, Parsons comes out drops 31 points on 12-of-19 shooting and had 10 rebounds and seven assists … message being sent? Parsons had 10 points in the first quarter when Houston went on a 21-6 run to take a lead they never gave up, and he was there with big shots to help stop Portland runs all night. Whether or not he’s this team’s No. 3, he is big for them.

source:   Miami Heat defense. You can say it is because they are tired, or because they are bored, or it’s because of injuries — the bottom line is Miami is playing terrible defense of late. They allowed the Hawks to shoot 51.9 percent on Monday and score 122.4 points per 100 possessions. In their last 10 games the Heat are allowing 107.6 points per 100, 5.2 higher than their season average and 23rd in the NBA in that stretch. Miami’s defense is different than most, rather than having a shot-blocking center in the paint to erase mistakes; they play a pressure defense that counts on energy and athleticism. Take your foot off the gas with that kind of defense and you get exposed. The Heat’s lack of energy shows on defense, and it shows on the scoreboard.

source:   Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers. MCW looked like the stud from the first month of the season Monday — 31 points on 22 shots, plus he had 5 assists. What seemed different was the frequency and determinations of his drives to the basket, he was aggressive and attacking again. Not that it was enough, the Sixers still lost to the Wizards. Still, good to see this Carter-Williams again.

source:   LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers. He put up monster numbers that need to be mentioned here — 27 points and 20 rebounds. He wasn’t efficient (11-of-26 shooting) and he was part of some spotty Portland defense on the day (they gave up 126 points to the Rockets) still you have to give Aldridge credit for his numbers. He made some fantasy owners happy.

source:  D.J. Augustin, Chicago Bulls. Augustin — who was let go by the Pacers last season and waived by the Raptors this season — has played the best basketball of his career in the 19 games since joining the Bulls, and he was key in this one. Augustin had 11 points in the fourth quarter, then five in overtime to help give the Bulls a win over the Lakers (a win that pulls Chicago up to .500. Augustin finished the game with 27 points. Not bad for a cast off.

Rumor: Raptors trying to trade up in draft for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

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The Raptors have major problems in the playoffs annually.

Is a coaching change enough to fix them?

Toronto already fired Dwane Casey and promoted assistant Nick Nurse after a highly successful regular season. Perhaps, major roster turnover could follow.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander projects to be a late lottery pick. The Raptors have no selections in this draft. So, acquiring one high enough to pick the Kentucky point guard would take plenty.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are stars. Toronto’s bench is stocked with solid young players. O.G. Anunoby is very promising.

So, the Raptors have pieces to move. The only question how much they’d package for a draft pick.

Toronto already has Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright at point guard. But Lowry is 32, and VanVleet will be a restricted free agent this summer. If they really believe in Gilgeous-Alexander, the Raptors should try to get him.

All that said, this is the time of year rumors – both credible and not – fly. So, it’s worth remaining skeptical while still considering the validity of what reputable reporters like Stein convey.

Luka Doncic, Donte DiVincenzo, Jerome Robinson among NBA draft invitees

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Of course DeAndre Ayton will attend Thursday’s NBA draft. The Suns will likely draft him No. 1 overall.

But what about more marginal first-round prospects?

The NBA’s draft invite list is an important tool in judging their stock. The league wants to avoid players sitting in agony until their names are called. So, the NBA works to invite only the prospects most likely to get picked high in the draft.

The full list of invited players (which the league notes is subject to change):

Luka Doncic will go high in the draft, and though how high is still uncertain, his inclusion on this list says nothing about his stock. It just speaks to whether we’ll see him Thursday night. His attendance will depend at least on when Real Madrid’s season ends, though the NBA is apparently confident enough to list him.

Jerome Robinson has climbed draft boards since the season ended. He must be impressing in workouts and interviews.

Donte DiVincenzo is a bit of a surprise selection, as he’s not widely viewed as a first-round lock. Perhaps, the league is looking to capitalize on his popularity stemming from a breakout NCAA tournament championship game.

This will only reinforce the idea Chandler Hutchinson received a promise. Otherwise, he’s a surprise invitee.

Among the top players not attending: Kevin Huerter (Maryland), Jacob Evans (Cincinnati), Troy Brown (Oregon) and Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech). Though they could go higher than players listed here, that says something about Huerter’s Evans’, Browns’ and Okogie’s stock, too.

Report: Rudy Gay opting out of Spurs contract

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants to leave the Spurs, but he’s at their whims.

This doesn’t mean Rudy Gay will depart San Antonio, but he’s taking control of his future.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

Gay’s option-year salary was $8,826,300.

I doubt Gay, who turns 32 this summer, will draw such a high starting salary on his next contract – though I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. He could likely get a multi-year deal with a higher total value.

Or he could chase a ring elsewhere.

Remember, Gay gave up money to leave the Kings last summer. No matter how much the Leonard situation should make us rethink the Spurs’ culture, San Antonio probably isn’t “basketball hell.” Still, the Spurs clearly don’t look as appealing as they once did, and Gay has shown how much he values team quality.

Gay is coming off a nice season, and San Antonio might try to re-sign him. Danny Green has a $10 million player option for next season, which will swing whether the Spurs have the flexibility for a bigger move this summer.

Report: LeBron James’ camp likes Collin Sexton

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In 2014, LeBron James tweeted his fondness for Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier. The Heat traded up to get Napier in the draft, but LeBron left for the Cavaliers that summer, anyway.

Could history repeat itself, this time in Cleveland?

LeBron has already talked up Oklahoma point guard Trae Young, but maybe LeBron and his camp want the Cavs to take a different point guard – Alabama’s Collin Sexton – with the No. 8 pick.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, via Jordan Zirm of ESPN Cleveland:

The Cavaliers should take the best prospect available. Worrying about what LeBron might want makes a mistake only more likely.

LeBron might stay in Cleveland, but as 2014 showed, it won’t be because of a draft pick. If he stays, it very well could be by opting into the final year of his contract. His player-option salary ($35,607,968) is slightly higher than his projected max salary as a free agent (about $35.35 million). If LeBron opts in, the best chance of keeping him long-term is building a better team around him.

That means taking the best prospect at No. 8 or trading the pick for someone who can help LeBron win now. If the top prospect is Sexton, that’s fine. But the Cavs are fare more likely to appease LeBron by getting the pick right in the long run rather than choosing the prospect he wants now.